Restorative Justice & the Arts

A young man holding an open book gives a thumbs-up sign.

Our Challenge

Integrate the arts into the healing and resiliency framework offered to court-involved youth in Nashville.
Every year, almost a quarter million young people spend time behind bars. Incarceration is expensive: On average, it costs $88,000 to incarcerate and prosecute just one child. And it may not be an effective means of addressing crime or reducing recidivism, either.  
More and more juvenile courts turn to restorative justice as a solution. In Nashville, Juvenile Court assesses the talents, skills, and needs of all people passing through court, connecting youth and their families with community services to assist in their positive personal development. Often, court-involved youth haven’t had long-term exposure to the arts. 
The goal of the Restorative Justice & the Arts Program is to connect teaching artists with tools to enhance their artistic practice to serve court-involved youth and to connect youth who have been involved in the Juvenile Court system with creative pathways that support resiliency and well-being. Our hope is to divert youth from incarceration by exposing them to arts-based programming. For the same cost of incarcerating one youth for one year, Nashville can invest in arts programming that helps court-involved youth heal, grow, and thrive, as well as increasing employment opportunities for local artists. 

What Is Restorative Justice? 

In her 2017 TEDx Talk, Judge Sheila D.J. Calloway, defines restorative justice, explaining the benefits of this system for victims, court-involved youth, and the community. 
“Restorative justice moves the conversation from ‘Who did the crime and what do they deserve?’ to questions of ‘Who has been harmed, what are their needs, and whose obligation it is to fix their harm?’”
Judge Sheila D.J. Calloway, Juvenile Court Judge, Nashville-Davidson County

Long-term Exposure to the Arts Is Often Not Available for Youth

Two men in a recording studio. A young man sitting at an audio mixing board is being helped by an older man standing nearby.
Many of the areas of Nashville that are home to the greatest number of court-involved youth lack resources dedicated to arts and cultural spending. Furthermore, the schools where many court-involved youth are zoned do not have regular arts programming.
When working with youth and their families, Juvenile Court assessments often reveal a child’s desire to create, write, sing, or paint as a way to find their voice amidst poverty and fear and chaos. Metro Arts and Juvenile Court are working together to think through ways the arts can be included in the services to which youth are referred and experience.

Why the Arts Matter: Amplifying Positive Outcomes

Studies from the National Endowment of the Arts, Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, and Annie E. Casey Foundation, found that when arts are added to diversion programs, the outcomes improve dramatically. Here are three specific areas where outcomes improve: 


Research shows that students who participate in intensive art experiences are more likely to graduate high school, aspire to attend college (or attend), and get higher grades overall.

Civic Engagement

Along with participation in intensive art experiences comes an increased likelihood of voting, as do other signals of community engagement, such as volunteering. 

Social Skills 

Being involved in intensive art experiences aids self-confidence, self-control, conflict resolution, collaboration, and empathy.  
A young man wearing headphones.
Colorful graffiti-style artwork.

Our Plan to Increase Arts Programming

Our goal is diversion, rather than incarceration. Before this program launched, Judge Calloway's restorative justice work diverted more than 1,100 cases in her court. That's over 1,000 kids who spent the night at home, rather than behind bars. 

What have we accomplished and how are we working towards that outcome? 

Our plan to increase the availability of arts-based programming for kids diverted from incarceration is: 
  1. ASSESS: As a first step, we engaged with arts organizations that exemplify how the arts integrate with youth development principles, sparking creativity and building life skills. This network informed the development of a training program to build competency in artists and organizations interested in working with court-involved youth. Additionally, a focus group with young people was conducted, giving Metro Arts the ability to listen to outcomes youth wanted to see from the program.
  2. TRAIN: With the Oasis Center and Juvenile Court as partners we have been able to assemble practitioners well versed in restorative practices to help arts organizations and artists think through their practice with a different lens. The training program has the following tenets: 1. Intro to Restorative Practice 2. Understanding Systemic Racism 3. Cultural Humility 4. Trauma Informed Care 5. Positive Youth Development 6. Non-Violent Communication and Storytelling.
  3. DEPLOY: Artists and arts organizations who completed the training have been awarded monies to develop arts programming in Juvenile Detention and schools, as well as other programs that serve court-involved youth such as Gang Court, Youth Overcoming Drug Abuse, and Reaching Excellence As Leaders. Restorative Justice & the Arts Programs engage youth in spoken word, storytelling, theater, beat making, songwriting, creative writing, music recording/production, dance, visual art, yoga, drumming, and Capoeira.

Positive Youth Development Principles 

Restorative Justice & the Arts programs reflect the guiding principles for positive youth development that:  
  • Promote a sense of physical, social, and emotional safety
  • Encourage relationship building 
  • Foster meaningful youth participation 
  • Provide opportunities for building purpose 
  • Engage youth in learning experiences that build valuable and healthy life skills
A diagram showing the "5 C's" of positive youth development: Connection, Confidence, Character, Competence, and Contribution. Also included is the additional outcome of Caring.

A young man having a conversation with another man.
Feedback from Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center (Youth Opportunity Investments, LLC), after partnering with Metro Arts in 2017: 
"With the help of the Restorative Justice & the Arts programs in music studios, drumming, spoken word, yoga, and creative arts we have reduced our idle time in detention from 1.5 hours to 45 minutes. In May of 2017 we saw youth fights decrease from 8 to 3 and in September 2017 there were none."
"If poetry helps keep one kid out from behind bars, it’s worth it. And if music helps restore healing to one family, it’s worth it. And the reality is, the deep wound of mass incarceration in our community must be addressed, and it must be addressed through comprehensive collaborations and innovative deployments of resources."
—Jennifer Cole, Executive Director of Metro Arts

Program Participants

A young person sings into a microphone in a recording studio.
Handwritten note from a program participant. It reads as follows: "What did I learn about the program? I learned you have to give respect to get respect. I also learned that you can achieve things if you put your mind to it. I would like for them to continue to come! I say that because they teach me new things and teach me about music."
A person holds up a colorful drawing of three-dimensional shapes: a sphere, a cone, and a cube.

Our Partners

The Restorative Justice & the Arts Program is presented by Metro Arts, Juvenile Court, and Oasis Center. Artists and Arts Organizations that have participated in the program include:
  • Daniel Arite
  • Windship Boyd
  • Rahim Buford
  • Vali Forrister
  • Carolyn German
  • Ellen Gilbert
  • Shirley Covington Lightfoot
  • Jessika Malone
  • Lakesha Moore
  • Michael Mucker
  • Amanda Cantrell Roche
  • Jon Royal
  • Shawn Whitsell
  • Jewell Winn
  • Actors Bridge Ensemble
  • African American Cultural Alliance
  • From the Heart Int'l Education Foundation
  • Global Education Center
  • Southern Word
  • Tennessee Performing Arts Center

Our Goals

This evidence-based program will: 
  • Meet Mayor Barry’s priority goal areas of: Education, Public Safety, Economic and Community Development, and Building a Better Quality of Life
  • Increase creative employment 
  • Restore families within the community and increase overall community resilience 
If you are an artist or arts organization interested in working with court-involved youth, contact Cecilia Olusola Tribble or Rebecca Kinslow

See More PIP Projects

Public Investment Planning is an innovative approach to budgeting, launched in 2016, that challenges Metro departments and agencies to think creatively about how they can collaborate on pilot initiatives to better serve Nashville-Davidson County residents. Learn more at